Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano blamed “politicization” for a week of furor over a report that warned “right-wing extremists” were recruiting veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
She also said the Obama administration’s veterans programs were necessary to combat such extremism.
“I regret that in the politicization of everything that happens in Washington, D.C., some took offense,” Ms. Napolitano said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The secretary defended the report, as she has since a report in The Washington Times detailed how it defined “rightwing extremism” as including pro-life and anti-immigration groups and cited Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as an example of a disgruntled veteran.
“But I think any fair reading of the report says this is very consistent with other reports that have been issued before… . They are meant to give people what is called situational awareness, and they are certainly not intended to give offense - far from it.”
The report set off a firestorm of protest from veterans groups, including the American Legion, and conservatives. Ms. Napolitano stressed, however, that the report did not identify veterans as extremists.
“What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremists groups that are trying to recruit [them] to commit violent acts within the country,” she said.
She later added, “That’s why the Obama administration wants to work with returning vets and make sure they’ve got health care, education opportunities, job opportunities, all the like so that they do not become a target of these extremist groups.”
Asked about the groups in question, Ms. Napolitano said they are “almost far too numerous to name.” She named no such groups, mentioning only in general terms that pro-life activists have committed bombings.
Criticism of the nine-page “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” was not solely from the right.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, earlier this week sent a letter to Ms. Napolitano, saying he was “dumbfounded” by the assessment.
Veterans groups objected to the report’s citing of McVeigh, the Gulf War veteran who was executed in 2001 for killing 168 people in the 1995 bombing of a federal building.
“To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical ‘disgruntled military veteran’ is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam,” American Legion National Commander David K. Rehbein wrote in a letter to Ms. Napolitano that requested a meeting with her.
Ms. Napolitano has said she will meet with Mr. Rehbein this week.
On Sunday, Ms. Napolitano suggested that the Homeland Security Department could have used a better choice of words in its assessment.
“In retrospect, anything can be written differently to prevent politicization,” she said.